The Magic 48
As the 2008 Phillies season progressed, closer Brad Lidge was perfect in his save opportunities.
Which, if you know something about the team’s fans, worried them to no end. “Something has to go wrong,” we (and I include myself among them) thought, “and he’ll probably blow a save at a crucial time.”
“This is Philadelphia. This was the Phillies. From save number one on, it was a given he’d blow the next one – especially at the end of the season and, of course, in Game 5 of the ‘08 Series.
Why would we have expected anything else?
“Of course, because this is Philadelphia and they are the Phillies,” said my friend and devoted Philadelphia baseball fan Chuck Darrow, who has seen more than his share of disappointments, bad baseball and bad luck.
I kept hoping Lidge would blow a meaningless game during the season, so his streak would not extend into the race for the division or postseason. That’s just the way many of us fans are, we always expect the worst.
But Lidge did not blow a save during the year, nor did he blow game five of the ’08 World Series, which gave the team only its second World Series Championship in its more than 130-year history.
He went 48 for 48 in save opportunities that year. No other closer has ever gone an entire season and a post-season without blowing a save.
As the streak continued, I wondered if his teammates talked to him about it or if it was it like players not talking about a no-hitter to a pitcher who was hurling one through five or more innings.
“We didn’t often talk about it,” Lidge said. “We may have mentioned that the season was going really well a time or two. You probably don’t get caught up too much in the numbers knowing how on any given day things (happen), especially for a reliever.
“You might be off to an incredible start, and then a couple of months into the season you blow a save and give up a four spot – and then all of a sudden – your numbers are all skewed and nothing really looks that great. So I think relievers probably have an unspoken rule that if a guy is doing great, you just tell him he’s doing great. You don’t really get into the numbers.
“You give them a lot of pats on the back, and they keep it going – but yeah, I think you don’t discuss numbers.”
A few times, his teammates bailed him out.
On June 6, in the bottom of the bottom of the 10th against Atlanta, the Braves had Josh Anderson on third and Gregor Blanco on second with two outs against Lidge. He gave up a line-drive single to Yunel Escobar; Anderson scored, and Blanco headed home with the tying run – but centerfielder Shane Victorino gunned Blanco down at the plate.
“When that game was over, I gave Shane many hugs and thank you’s. And, you know, I don’t know if I bought him a steak dinner or what, but he certainly knows how much that meant for me,” said Lidge.
“I’ve told him this. I was like, after you made that play, I really felt like, no matter what happened out there, it was gonna all end up good. Like, even if we had a one-run lead and the lead off guy got a triple, we were going to get out of there with the win. I told you I was just like that. That went a long way. It’s just really reinforcing an extreme amount of confidence,” Lidge explained.
Brad Lidge (r) and Carlos Ruiz celebrate a Phillies victory in 2008. (AP File Photo)
On September 27, the Phillies were trying to clinch the NL East against the Nationals. In the ninth, the Nationals cut the lead to 4-3, and had loaded the bases with only one out. Up stepped Ryan Zimmerman, a notorious Philly killer. He hit a rocket past Lidge.
But shortstop Jimmy Rollins went down on one knee to snare the ball and flipped it to second baseman Chase Utley, whose throw beat Zimmerman to first, not only giving the team the NL East title, but keeping Lidge’s streak intact.
Lidge has discussed that play with Rollins and Utley. “From my perspective, when that ball was hit, my first thought was ‘crap!’ And then my second thought was watching you guys roll that double play, you guys are superstars. You went in fast forward motion to make that play happen. And, you know, I think we all knew how big that play was. I mean, that’s what (won the) division.”
Lidge was 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA that season. In 69.1 innings he allowed only 50 hits and struck out 92 batters against only 35 walks.
The Phillies finished the 2007 season – in which they also won the NL East – with Brett Myers converted to closer from a starter. It left the team’s rotation thin, so they went into the offseason looking for a starter. When they were unable to make a deal for anyone they liked, they decided to return Myers to the rotation and acquire a closer.
Lidge knew he was going from one good club to another. He knew of the team’s offensive prowess and steady defense. But it was his receiver who surprised him.
His out pitch was a wipe-out slider that dropped into the dirt. It was a tough pitch to handle, and Lidge said his catcher at Houston, Brad Ausmus, was an outstanding receiver.
Brad Lidge drops to his knees in celebration after closing out Game 5 of the 2008 World Series - while keeping his streak of 48 straight games saved intact. (Photo: Zevilansky / Getty Images)
Lidge said after throwing to Ausmus, “I just figured… the next catcher was just not gonna be at that level.” Then he started throwing to Phils backstop Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz.
“I was shocked because I just figured, you know, coming off of Brad Ausmus, the next catcher wouldn’t be as good,” said Lidge.
“After throwing to Chooch even in spring training and certainly once the season rolled around, I could see just how determined he was and how good he was. Technically, for a guy that didn’t really come up as a catcher, to be able to block balls the way he did. And to be able to adjust for me, which installed in me no fear with a runner on third base and spiking a slider. That’s huge. For a pitcher to know that, that they could go to the well on their best pitch and not have to worry about anything, that’s huge.”
Despite being perfect in save opportunities for a team that won the World Series, Lidge was not given much consideration for the Cy Young Award. Was he upset at that?
“I think it’s really tough for a reliever to win that. It hasn’t happened very often. I know that it has happened. So, I think the biggest thing for me was I actually got some votes for it,” he said.
Lidge finished fourth in the voting that year, behind winner Tim Lincecum, Brandon Webb and Johan Santana.
He did receive that year’s Reliever of the Year Award.
“That’s as good as I can do as a closer, that was good enough for me,” he said.
He also received the 2008 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Lidge now lives in Colorado with his family and hosts a show on MLB radio (Loud Outs) two or three times a week.
His 48th and final save that season was in game 5 of the 2008 World Series. Lidge struck out Eric Hinske for the final out, and he dropped to his knees and held up his hands and looked up to heaven.
“Brad Lidge does it again” said Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, “and stays perfect for the 2008 season, 48 for 48 in save opportunities!”
My friend Chuck Darrow and I celebrated, but also breathed easier. This was Philadelphia and those were the Phillies, but Brad Lidge had certainly defied the odds.